Hair Loss: It's Your Loss

July 7, 2010

In medical parlance, hair loss is known as alopecia. The most common form of alopecia is pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) from which one-third of all men and women suffer. This type of hair loss is permanent though other forms of alopecia can be temporary, such as in alopecia areata. Alopecia may only involve a loss of hair in the scalp area or it may affect body hair, too.

Permanent Hair Loss

Here are the three forms of permanent hair loss:

* Male-pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia)—Balding in men can start quite early, while men are still in their teens or early 20's. This type of baldness is characterized by balding at the top of the scalp and a receding hairline beginning at the temples. For some, the balding will be partial, in others there will be total hair loss. 

* Female-pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia)—In women, permanent hair loss is often confined to thinning along the crown, sides, and front. The hairline in front may thin but is not likely to recede. It is rare for women to experience total baldness. 

* Cicatricial (scarring) alopecia—This condition is rare and occurs in response to an inflammation. The inflammation causes damage and scarring in the hair follicles which results in permanent hair loss. There will be patches of baldness and there may be pain or itching.

Temporary Hair Loss

Here are the four forms of temporary hair loss:

* Alopecia areata—In this condition, hair loss is confined to small quarter-sized patches that are smooth and round. The disease is most often limited to just a few patches on the scalp but may affect any area of the head or body. This includes beards, eyelashes, and eyebrows. In some rare situations, there may be a total loss of body hair. If the entire scalp is left bare, the condition is then known as alopecia totalis. If there is a loss of all body hair, this is known as alopecia universalis. While there may be some itching or soreness just before the hair loss, symptoms tend to be mild or little-noticed.

* Telogen effluvium—In this condition there is sudden, temporary hair loss due to severe emotional stress or major illness. The afflicted individual may notice that large amounts of hair come out as the hair is washed or combed. The hair will also come out in response to a gentle tug. It is rare to accrue bald patches with this condition. There will be instead, an overall thinning of the hair.

* Traction alopecia—This condition is the result of hairstyles that stress the hair, for instance braids, cornrows, or pigtails. Using tight rollers can also cause this type of alopecia. The hair loss tends to occur in rows where the hair was parted and pulled tight. 

* Anagen effluvium—This type of hair loss occurs when chemotherapy affects hair during its active growing (anagen) state. The hair loss may be quite extensive and tends to begin a short time after therapy is begun. The hair cycles will become reestablished after completion of chemotherapy, but the hair may not come in as thick as it was prior to chemo.

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